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Utensils of the Reich President Friedrich Ebert , memorial in Heidelberg (left a signature folder )

A countersignature ( French contreseing , English counter signature , date and counterpoint signature ) means that a document ( memo , letter , business letter , contract ), an arrangement or an administrative act of at least two people must be signed.

This is common in the administration , whether state ( public administration ) or private sector , for important documents. What is meant in political science, however, is a certain form of countersignature: the actions of a head of state must also be signed by a minister so that they can become legally effective. Without the signature of the minister, the head of state cannot order anything, unless the law provides for this for a specific group of acts. In companies, the countersignature is the external expression of the four-eyes principle and the separation of functions .


The instrument of countersignature exists in many countries, but not in all, for example not in the USA . There the president is not only head of state but also head of government . Historically, the countersignature comes from the constitutional monarchy , when it made ministerial responsibility possible. But even in today's Federal Republic of Germany , for example , (almost) all orders of the Federal President must be countersigned by a member of the government ( Art. 58 GG ). It is similar in Austria ( Art. 67 B-VG ). In the legislative procedure, Article 82 (2) of the Basic Law contains the procedural stages as constituent elements that must be assessed strictly separately from one another. Then there is the creation of legal norms according to the provisions of the Basic Law, the countersignature by the Federal Government , the execution by the Federal President, the proclamation by publication in the Federal Law Gazette and the entry into force .

Constitutional monarchy

The countersignature comes from the time of the constitutional monarchy and is part of the ministerial responsibility . The monarch has traditionally been "inviolable" and "without responsibility": he could not be held responsible for his actions or even be charged. In the constitutional monarchy, however, the monarch had to appoint responsible ministers. An order has since been signed by the monarch, but also by the minister. With this countersignature, the minister assumed responsibility, while the monarch remained inviolable. The opposition in parliament was able to criticize the minister without attacking the monarch.

The minister's responsibility extended to (almost) all actions of the monarch, not just those that were formally countersigned. Oral instructions or public speaking could also be used.

Appointment of the head of government

In the past, the appointment of the head of government could be viewed as problematic: the head of state appointed a candidate who was not yet a member of the government at the time of appointment. The appointment could only become legally effective once it had been countersigned. The question arose of who could countersign the act of appointment. The candidate himself was not entitled to do so as long as he was not a member of the government.

In 1867 the organs of the newly founded North German Confederation were installed. King Wilhelm I of Prussia appointed the Federal Chancellor in his capacity as Federal Presidium . He had this countersigned by two Prussian ministers, although this was not provided for in the constitution. In later cases the Chancellor himself countersigned: At the moment of signing, the appointment became effective and with it the right of the undersigned to sign.

The problem was not yet resolved in the Weimar constitution ; all orders of the Reich President required the countersignature. In the current constitutions of Germany and Austria, however, the appointment of the Austrian and German Federal Chancellors is exempt from the countersignature requirement (see Art. 58 GG).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber : German constitutional history since 1789 . Volume I: Reform and Restoration 1789 to 1830 . 2nd edition, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1967, p. 338 f.
  2. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume III: Bismarck and the realm . 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1988, p. 814.